The team are winning? 

Rosie Right

A high-school student has asked Rosie to discuss the use of verbs with collective nouns. Her query was about the noun team. She and a teacher disagreed about whether a plural or singular verb should be used with this noun. Fortunately, Rosie was able to reply that they both can be correct, depending on whether the writer is thinking of the team as a unit or as a collection of individuals.

Theodore Bernstein in "The Careful Writer" says: "Whether to treat collective nouns as singular or plural is a continuing source of perplexity. The British seem to resolve their doubts in favor of the plural; the Americans seem to resolve theirs in favor of the singular. Both should resolve them in favor of good sense.

"If the idea of oneness predominates, treat the noun as a singular ('The number of accidents is larger this year' — because number is thought of as total.) If the idea of more-than-oneness predominates, treat the noun as a plural. ('A great number of accidents are preventable — because number is equivalent to many.')

As usual, Frederick Crews' response to this query in The Random House Handbook, Sixth Edition, is clear:

"A collective noun is one having a singular form but referring to a group of members: administration, army, audience, class, crowd, orchestra, team, and so forth. This conflict between form and meaning can lead to agreement problems. But in general you should think of a collective noun as singular and thus make the verb singular, too.

"Once in a while, however, you may want to emphasize the individual members of the group. Then you should make the verb plural:

"'The faculty have come to their assignments from all over the world.'"

These answers seem simple, but when we must make the choice in a specific bit of writing, deciding what to do can be confusing.

Reader Linda Winkler has caught us: In the restaurant review on May 8 we said: "The manager was still feeling badly about the soft-shells …."

Of course we should have said bad. If the manager felt badly there must have been something wrong with his sense of touch. The copy editor most certainly should have caught that before it was printed. Touché.

Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825), letter (1707 Summit Ave, Suite 201, Richmond Va. 23230), fax (355-9089) or e-mail


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